Japan's prime minister is an unlikely reformer

Koizumi: He has only three months until election decides his nation's and party's fate.

April 30, 2001

JUNICHIRO Koizumi, the brash reformer, beat the bosses for rank-and-file support to lead the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and become prime minister of Japan.

He is an unlikely rebel, a third-generation LDP member of parliament and Cabinet minister. The same may be said of his blunt-speaking foreign minister, Makiko Tanaka, the first woman in the post, the most popular politician in Japan and daughter of a former prime minister and LDP patronage boss.

Japan certainly needs economic reforms, bank reforms and drastic reduction in feather-bedded government employment. To achieve all that, it must beat the LDP crony machine. What is needed is not the overthrow of the LDP but revolution from within in hopes of saving the party.

The looming deadline is July, when a parliamentary election may throw the whole lot out in favor of the unknown and more radical change.

There is no assurance the Koizumi team, which includes an unprecedented five female Cabinet ministers, younger men and nothing for key party factions, can achieve reforms by then.

Japan is in trouble with the United States for its passive economic policies during recession, and with Asian neighbors for its resurgent nationalism, including denial of World War II atrocities.

Many doubt whether Mr. Koizumi, who became a flaming radical late in his career, can accomplish what he promises. But what he wants is what Japan needs. The world, in turn, needs a healthy, vibrant Japan. May he enjoy every possible success.

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